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Saturday, May 06, 2017

If you don't understand what you're negotiating for how do you know if you've won?

by digby

This piece by Jamelle Bouie on why Trump's civil war comments are so scary is an important read. He lays out the historical detail around Andrew Jackson and the nullification crisis and the bigger picture about the culture and economy of slavery. He admits that the slave owing Andrew Jackson might have been able to "strike a deal" to avert the civil war temporarily had he been president thirty years later. But it would have had to perpetuate slavery.

Bouie describes something I've been thinking about a lot since Trump's election. He believes he is a "dealmaker" extraordinaire (which we've seen is nonsense) who can solve all the world's intractable problems (including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) at the negotiating table. But how do you know what "winning" is --- even "win-win" --- if you don't understand or care about the outcome? How does this work in politics when you have no morals or principles?
That gets to the rub of it all. Trump isn’t wrong to think there was a deal that could have prevented the Civil War. There was. But the price of that deal was the maintenance of slavery; in fact, the strengthening of a monstrous system of violence and exploitation.

That this wasn’t obvious to President Trump—that, judging from his continued tweets on the issue, it still isn’t—is as revealing as it is troubling. It suggests a worldview in which everything can be resolved by deals, where there are no moral stakes or irreconcilable differences, where there aren’t battles that have to be fought for the sake of the nation and its soul. Slavery had to be eradicated, and war was the only option. Any deal that was achievable would have been an immoral maintenance of an abominable status quo.

Likewise, Trump seems to see presidential leadership as a game of dealmaking, where the best and most effective presidents are those that make the most “deals.” But this just isn’t true. Dealmaking and negotiation are part of the job of the presidency, but they have to happen with a purpose in mind; with an idea of the good within reach. Simply striking a deal for the sake of a deal is a recipe for terrible missteps or outright capture by antagonistic interests. Trump’s amoral and opportunistic approach may pay dividends in the world of real estate, but it can bring disaster in government, obscuring real challenges, alienating potential allies, and bringing bad outcomes.

Trump's entire campaign argument was based upon his alleged talent at dealmaking. I have always wondered just what that means when the person making the deal has no understanding of his ostensible goals or how the deal might affect them if he did. He can be manipulated with flattery by people much smarter than he, who will simply tell him he won when he didn't. How can he know the difference? He just wants to "win" so a win can literally be anything.

And frankly, the fact the public was so willing to buy the idea that a TV celebrity who says he knows how to make good deals is qualified for the presidency actually says more about us than him. We clearly don't know what the job is either.